Authors: Isabel Markowski, registered dietitian and Common Pantry Operations Coordinator, Laura Mueller, Big Green Development Manager
On the surface, a food pantry and a school garden organization look very different; one is sealed with tile flooring, brick walls, and displays canned goods on shelves while the other freely floats to a multitude of schools, accompanied by soil, seeds, and lesson plans. However, they both breathe within the realm of food, taking deep inhales of three, specific elements: education, hunger, and awareness. Common Pantry, Chicago’s oldest continually-operating food pantry on the northside, and Big Green, an environmental education non-profit bringing “learning gardens” to schools, recently joined forces to highlight how these elements can nourish a community.
A massive day of action, Plant a Seed Day inspires people around the country on the first day of spring to start growing their own food by taking a simple step: planting a seed. Over the last two years, nearly half a million people have planted 1.6 million seeds in their homes, schools, and communities. This year, Common Pantry volunteers and Big Green worked together to assemble 1500 microgreen grow kits that were distributed to families in need with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system and Farm.Food.Familias (FFF). Made of a magnifying glass, a packet of seeds, and growing instructions, these kits were assembled by families participating in the pantry’s Common Kids program, a program that provides education and service opportunities for youth centered around food insecurity, compassion, and social impact.
Laura Mueller, Big Green’s Development Manager in Chicago, says, “we were thrilled to work with Common Pantry, Isabel and the amazing Common Kids team on this important project. Together we gave out seeds, growing media, and growing instructions to underserved kids in Chicago so they too can experience the joy and wonder of growing at home.”
On both ends of these kits is a sounding board for families to ask themselves: where does our food come from? Why is food important for my mind and body? How is food different for people other than me? This element of education is the basis of teaching youth about the environment, health, and the people around us. The element of hunger is also directly addressed by empowering these families disproportionately affected by the pandemic to grow their own food. Awareness is the element that ties all of this together; we cannot further educate ourselves about food, food insecurity, and hunger unless we can recognize how these appear in our neighborhoods and how we can spread the message to benefit us all. How do we accomplish this tall task, you may ask? Well, just look to Chicago and these 3 elements, 2 organizations, and 1 day of action for some inspiration.